Holland and Zeeland chambers in merger mode

January 9, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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The Holland and Zeeland chambers of commerce have announced they will move ahead on a “united organization of both organizations” — but that’s about all that’s official.

Who will head the new organization is not known publicly at this point, nor is its name.

Jane Clark, president of the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce, said no jobs will be eliminated on either existing staff.

“We are both very lean organizations to begin with. So there will be more efficiencies, but then we’ll be able to provide more services to our members,” she said.

The Holland Chamber website lists 10 professional staff members; Zeeland lists three.

“All of our staff will be retained; there will be a role for everybody,” said Clark. “We’ll find a good spot for everybody.”

When asked if that meant there will be two presidents, Clark told the Business Journal it was “too early” to answer that.

“We are maintaining both offices — that’s very important. We’ll have a Holland office and a Zeeland office,” she added.

Jim Schoettle, president of the Zeeland Chamber, said, “Combining resources, talents, members and staff will produce a more vibrant, empowered organization. With the same number of staff, we will be able to do much more for our members, thanks to the elimination of duplicative work and services.”

The new organization “will promote a common mission while being respectful of the distinct needs of the two communities,” according to the joint statement released last week. It states that “the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce and Zeeland Chamber of Commerce will move ahead with continuous due diligence drafting bylaws for a united organization of both Chambers of Commerce. Bylaws will be written subject to approval by each board of directors.”

For two years, the two boards have been reviewing ways to “engage in collaborative efforts to create synergy and greater value for their members. A Collaboration Committee, with representation from both organizations, has been meeting regularly to discuss the process and look for outcomes to benefit members. Several collaborative programs, including Governmental Affairs Breakfasts, Tech Lunches and the Try It Local retail marketing program, have proven successful.”

This past summer, the collaboration panel engaged the Carl Frost Research Center at Hope College to survey the interest of chamber members in continuing the collaboration and eventually creating a combined chamber. Based on the positive response, the collaboration committee sought board approval from both chambers to formally move ahead.

“As the scope of business has become increasingly global, there has been a corresponding push to become more regional in marketing business communities in an effort to ‘speak with one voice,’” according to the joint statement. “The intent is to increase regional recognition, to create improved access to regional supplier bases, and to gain attention and traction in the clutter of the marketplace.”

Clark said in the joint statement that the two communities “are already seen as one economic area, (so) it makes sense for the combined chamber to deliver services to businesses along functional, not geographic, lines.”

The Holland Chamber currently has 1,100 members and the Zeeland Chamber has 350. There are 150 businesses that are members of both chambers.

The joint statement outlines the mission of both chambers as follows:

  • Increase area-wide recognition for business members.

  • Offer training, networking and educational opportunities.

  • Facilitate job creation and growth to improve the overall economic climate of the area.

  • Work with schools and governmental units.

  • Make this an area of choice to live, work, and be educated in.

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